March 23 & 24 2009-- Following the controversy surrounding Google's Street View service, you could be forgiven for thinking that taking - and publishing - identifiable pictures of people in the street without their permission is illegal.
But posting such images on the internet does not pose the same threat, according to the information watchdog.
Asked why Google's Street View is any different to a member of the public posting pictures they have taken on the World Wide Web, an Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) spokesman told Amateur Photographer: 'There is a scale issue...Google Street View is available to all.' He said that the seriousness of any privacy concern is linked to the 'harm and distress' an image may cause.
Launched on March 19, Google Street View U.K. brings 360-degree views of roads and homes from 25 British towns and cities. Just like the popular U.S. version of the service, Street View U.K. includes photographs of millions of residential houses, cars, and people. Google blurs most faces and license plates.
The spokesman added: 'If you are taking pictures with a digital camera they aren't necessarily available to all.'
Street View is 'legal'
Taking a picture of someone in the street without their permission is legal in the UK.
Though the watchdog's spokesman stressed that Google Street View is a 'legal application in this country', he said that the ICO would launch a formal investigation if Google was seen to breach an individual's right to privacy on a 'systematic' basis without 'safeguards' in place.
Speaking about privacy, in general terms. earlier this year, photo rights lawyer Rupert Grey said: 'You have complete freedom providing you are not harassing people. That is the key point as far as taking photographs is concerned.'
However, he pointed out that it is the issue of 'publishing photographs' around which the law of privacy has developed. 'This is a relatively new part of our system of rights,' he said.
And he explained that posting a photo of a celebrity, such as Naomi Campbell, on an image-sharing website such as Facebook, would amount to 'publication' and give rise to a 'potential claim' for damages on grounds of invasion of privacy.
On Tuesday, the BBC reported that a formal complaint about Google Street View calls for it to be shut down until it does a better job of protecting personal privacy.
Privacy watchdogs in the United Kingdom want to close down Google Street View, only days after the service was launched in the country. Google has already received hundreds of requests to take down photos of various areas in the U.K. and could even face legal actions.